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ArlingtonCivic Federation sets stage for action on contentious resolution

Civic Federation sets stage for action on contentious resolution

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The contentious internal battle over an Arlington County Civic Federation resolution will play out at the organization’s Feb. 21 meeting.

Civic Federation delegates on Dec. 13 agreed to devote virtually the entire February meeting to the critique of Arlington governance and community involvement, committing to take a vote on the measure by the close of the meeting.

“Come hell or high water, by the end of the meeting in February we will have voted this resolution up or down, in whatever form it may be in at that time,” said Adam Henderson, the Civic Federation’s bylaws chair.

The measure in question, proposed several months ago by five former presidents of the Civic Federation, demands more accountability of the county government, and a return to a more bottom-up style of decision-making.


But the measure itself has run into criticisms from some quarters, both for its tone and for some of the assertions made in the resolution itself and in its hundreds and hundreds of appendix footnotes.

The measure, which has been circulating since September, was debated at the Civic Federation’s November meeting, and its proponents had expected it would be brought up for a vote in December. But then federation president John Ford decided it would be better to wait until February. Critics feared the move was an effort of some in Civic Federation leadership to kick the can down the road indefinitely, which Ford said was not the case.

“There’s no intent on my part or the board’s part in stifling [the measure],” he said. “It’s actually exactly the oppose. We want to give it a full airing.”

The Dec. 13 meeting was taken up with an appearance by County Manager Mark Schwartz, while the January meeting will feature members of the County Board. Meetings this past fall had focused on a candidate forum, Missing Middle housing and the federation’s TiGER proposal, leaving February as the most logical spot, Ford said.

“We’re going to spend the whole February meeting on this,” he said.

Trust, but verify, seemed to be the mantra of former Civic Federation president Duke Banks, one of the sponsors of the resolution. He proposed an additional resolution at the December meeting, which called on Civic Federation delegates to commit to voting up or down on the original proposal “substantially as is” at the February meeting.

“This has been delayed three or four times,” Banks said, calling his December motion “just to ensure that a vote will occur.”

Committing to a vote seemed to generate no great pushback, but alarm bells were raised over the wording “substantially as is,” which some said would be used to cut off debate and, potentially, amendments.

Late in the December meeting, Henderson stepped in and suggested removing that phrasing.

“We do not know what the impact of the debate or any feedback we may receive between now and then” may be, he said.

Banks supported the change, and the measure passed – not unanimously, but with a substantial majority of delegates both in person and taking part online.

In addition to Banks, the original resolution – now to be considered in February – was sponsored by former Civic Federation presidents Michael McMenamin, Sandy Newton, Stefanie Pryor and Allan Gajadhar.

Their measure suggests that the long-standing “Arlington Way” of bottom-up style of governance has been displaced by county leaders (elected and appointed) pushing their agendas on the population without sufficiently listening to the public.

But during discussion at the November Civic Federation meeting, and in under-the-radar back-and-forth since, some have criticized the measure (particularly the nearly 700 footnotes spanning 100 pages) as including inaccuracies, faulty assumptions and a negative tone that will hinder, rather than improve, the Civic Federation’s relationship with the county-government leadership. At least one organization has threatened to pull out of the Civic Federation if such a measure is passed, according to scuttlebutt.

Proponents of the measure counter that it’s been a long time since the county government paid much heed, let alone feared (as it once did) getting on the wrong side of the Civic Federation and its member organizations. The points made in the resolution are backed up by facts, they contend, and there are plenty of places where efforts of the county government are praised.

One has to be a civic activist (or grizzled media member) of the old school to recall the days when Civic Federation meetings and fights over resolutions often deteriorated into loud battles over parliamentary procedure and other maneuvering, often leading to meetings that ran from 7 p.m. to past midnight and left (figurative) blood on the floor. A common refrain at the time was that delegates never could be sure what they’d approved until they read about it in the pages of the Sun Gazette.

Over the past decade or more, there has been more decorum (and meetings ended much sooner), but during the same period of time the Civic Federation’s role as the go-to source holding the county government accountable has diminished.

During the December meeting, it was asked whether the resolution by the five presidents was being submitted to various federation committees for vetting prior to the February discussion and vote.

That may be easier said than done, as committees are, “for all practical purposes, not active,” Ford acknowledged.

“Our committee structure has atrophied, and we are trying to rebuild it,” he said.

Exactly how much the battle over this resolution is resonating in the broader Civic Federation, beyond the insider cohort, is hard to gauge.

“We have solicited comments [on the measure] several times – the next one I hear will be the first,” Ford said.

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